Posted on June 9, 2010
I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s volunteer program coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice
This morning, as I waited for my mom to come out of surgery, I scanned the NY Times for items relating to homelessness, thinking I would surely find at least one brief mention of the issue. And sure enough, as soon as I turned to the Op-Ed page, my eyes fell upon the heading, “Still No Shelter.” But as I continued reading, I realized it did not refer to homelessness after all, or at least not as it concerns NYC or even the US. Instead this column bemoaned the lack of progress in Haiti, where it claimed, “More than a million people are displaced [from the earthquake]…and Haiti’s government has no clear strategy to get them…into more secure shelter any time soon.”
Needless to say, this is an urgent situation and there is no question that it needs to be a high priority for the entire region. Human suffering on this scale, regardless of where it is, should not be acceptable and cannot be ignored.
But meanwhile, homelessness has been on the agenda in this country for more than three decades. Since 1980 billions of dollars have been spent nationwide on the problem. And yet the number of individuals experiencing or at serious risk of experiencing homelessness only continues to climb. On any given night, almost 700,000 people in the US lack a safe place to sleep at night and have no secure access to food, clothing, or sanitation – never mind employment, transportation, or health care.
What is our government’s “clear strategy” for getting these suffering human beings “into secure shelter”? The good news is that, after three decades of merely managing the issue of homelessness, our nation is finally beginning to shift resources toward strategies that solve the problem. Permanent supportive housing is an evidence-based cost-effective model that works. With even the hardest-to-serve populations, the rate of success is around 90% and the expense to taxpayers is a fraction of what we have been spending.
If we are really serious about responding to human suffering at home and abroad, then we need to get serious about ending homelessness now. By implementing permanent supportive housing on a large scale to meet the large need confronting our society, we could achieve that goal within our lifetime. Only then will we be in a position to judge the response strategies of other countries. And only then will we be in a position to respond ourselves.